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Special pods fitted to the wings of Embention’s drone enable it to drop insects at automated intervals. Their automated flights and economic use give drones an advantage in implementing sterile insect technique, a nontoxic approach to eradicating pests. (via Embention)


Sterile insect technique isn’t new; it’s been used for years to combat populations of pests that pose serious threats to human health and wellbeing. And the technique is simple:: a region is flooded with so many sterilized male insects that the probability of a female finding a fertile male to mate with drops dramatically. After several iterations, the population dies out. In Ethiopia, one such noxious pest is the tsetse fly, a carrier of an infectious protozoa which is often fatal for cattle, the loss of which is devastating to the Ethiopian economy. Pesticides are expensive, toxic, and time-consuming to use, so sterile insect technique is an attractive method.


Implementing this technique, however, has been difficult. Until recently, it requires several people aboard a manned aircraft to manually drop boxes of insects over particular zones weekly or daily.  Operating aircraft is also expensive and time-consuming, as well as haphazard due to fluctuations in weather. Additionally, regions with large populations of pests are sometimes politically unstable, making the logistics of reliable aircraft delivery of insects even more difficult. So using drones with automated flight schedules and fly zones is a logical next step.


Embention, a Spanish aircraft company, has developed a special drone prototype to assist with the eradication of the testse fly in Ethiopia. Currently under testing, the drone features special pods fitted to the wings, which detach at pre-programmed intervals. Boxes filled with swarms of sterile insects are ejected from the pods and thus released into the wild. It’s unclear how many sterile males will be needed to significantly reduced the tsetse fly in Ethiopia, but according to Popular Science, the prototype under testing is capable of delivering 5,000 insects per flight. That is certainly a good start! If successful, modified drones could be used to eradicate other noxious disease-causing pests, like malaria-causing mosquitoes from various regions around the world.


Time to fight Zika!


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